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Avalanche awareness a must

Staff writers
November 28, 2012 — Avalanche season is upon us and winter sport experts are offering some valuable information on how to stay safe on the slopes.

Avalanches are a force of nature that can occur at any moment. Experts say being aware and prepared is key to survival.
Avalanches are a force of nature that can occur at any moment. Experts say being aware and prepared is key to survival.

With the winter weather already into high gear in western Canada, the mountains are beckoning adventurers to get outside. While it can be an exciting time for winter activities, it's important to protect yourself against rapid flows of snow. 

“People have to be prepared with the best current avalanche information. Consulting the bulletin at is a good option. Here you can find the latest dangers and how it could affect you if you're venturing out in those areas,” says John Kelly, Operations Manager with the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC). 

Besides visiting the website, another protective measure people should consider is an avalanche skills training program. The courses teach anything from avalanche warning signs, to the importance of an avalanche forecast and what to do if you are caught in a landslide of snow.

But, similar to a weather forecast, avalanche forecasts are not full-proof and one can occur without warning or foresight.

“Slide conditions change fairly rapidly, so what starts out as a good year can turn bad. Sometimes bad layers in the snow pack can heal.” says Kelly.

When it comes to triggers, no one is safe, including avalanche experts. Even with training and education in avalanche safety, there is always a risk of getting caught in sliding snow. Albi Sole of the University of Calgary recalls how another day at the job, almost turned deadly. 
"It's one of the ironies of life, that no matter how expert you are, you can still make mistakes," says Sole. "I had a list as long as my arm as to why no avalanche would happen on that slope [that] day, and I was wrong, it happens. 

Luckily, Sole made it through the avalanche alive, but wants his story to be a cautionary tale of how spontaneous some avalanches can be. 
If you do become buried, Sole says the best chance of survival lies within having a transceiver so that rescuers can find your location.

"If you get buried there's nothing you can do, unless you are equipped with a transceiver and your buddies have a transceiver, and know how to use it." he says.

According to the CAC, 146 fatalities were caused by avalanches within the years of 2000-2010. Snowmobiling is now the backcountry activity that accounts for the most avalanche fatalities.

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